Let’s have some fun – something we haven’t had a lot of lately. Let’s talk college football in April. And, more specifically, let’s look back at the ongoing Jim Harbaugh era at the University of Michigan. In fact, let’s go all the way back to the very first day.
Dec. 30, 2014.
The first day of the Harbaugh era. The well-respected and highly successful coach both in college and the NFL had decided to come “home” and turn around a struggling Michigan program. But one thing Harbaugh said, or didn’t say, was that the program he was taking over was struggling.
During that first press conference at U-M, Harbaugh was asked: “Just from a distance, how much did it pain you to watch Michigan struggle the last six, seven years?”
His response: “I didn’t see the struggles you’re talking about.”
And he didn’t mean he couldn’t find a TV to watch Michigan play because he was too busy coaching the San Francisco 49ers. He meant, I think, that he didn’t believe the program was struggling.
That first press conference is a very interesting read with what we know now. We certainly know a lot more about what he would bring to the program than we did on Dec. 30, 2014.
We know, for example, he isn’t the messiah.
Q: As I was out last night in East Lansing and someone asked me if I was coming to see the messiah. I was wondering how comfortable or uncomfortable you are with this perception that you’re the savior of Michigan football?
Coach Harbaugh: “I’m not comfortable with that at all. As I said, I’m standing on a foundation that’s been built over 100 years by some great men. I feel like I’m standing on their shoulders. I want to do a good job. I want to be good. I want to win on the practice field, the classroom and the community. We want to win on fall Saturday afternoons, and we have great expectations for that. We’ll have great expectations for the first team meeting and the first week of winter conditioning. I can’t wait.”
That little Q&A was from that first press conference.
We know that in his six seasons, Harbaugh is 47-18 as head coach of the Wolverines. It’s better than his two previous predecessors (Brady Hoke 31-20; Rich Rodriguez 15-22) but not as good as Lloyd Carr (122-40) or Bo Schembechler (194-48).
What he has done is pretty good. He is one of just four Big Ten coaches to win 10-plus games in each of his first two seasons and is the second-fastest coach to 20 wins at Michigan.
But what he hasn’t done is what has rankled more than a few Michigan supporters. He hasn’t defeated rival Ohio State – 0-6 against the Buckeyes. If he wasn’t a Michigan man or had the great track record before he arrived, that alone might get him fired. He hasn’t won a Big Ten championship – something on the top of his to-do list each year. He won his first bowl game, but has lost the last four.
He also hasn’t been able to either recruit or create that elite quarterback, a position he played at a high level both in college and the pros. But that’s another subject for another time.
But the ultimate measuring stick IMO for Jim Harbaugh is that he has at least stopped the bleeding and restored plenty of pride back in the maize and blue. Michigan was clearly struggling before he arrived – despite what he saw or didn’t see. They were 46-42 in their last 88 games – four games above average is struggling for a program like Michigan.
Few Michigan fans hate Jim Harbaugh. Some are disappointed so far in the results but there isn’t a Big House size crowd demanding he be fired. He’s Jim Harbaugh. He’s earned – both before he arrived and more importantly since he’s arrived – to decide when and if he leaves.
But take a few minutes and read the transcript from the first day he arrived. Knowing what we know now, it’s a fun read, and even six years later, still a little inspiring.